Best Bird of the Year

Almost everyone who grew up interested in birds did so with a handful of not great guides to British birds. The older you are, the worse those guides will have been. I had a Collins Gem (not great) an AA guide (pretty ropey) and an RSPB one that was actually pretty good (as you might expect). Later on, I had books that grouped birds by habitat or season instead of species and books that used photos that showed winter visitors in summer plumage. Now I have some very good bird guides and that same RSPB one I started with, incredibly battered, missing a spine, but full of sentimental value.

I’m waffling. The point I was slowly getting to is this: almost all of those books implied that a hoopoe is a bird that you might just bump into in the park, as if they were like pigeons or swans or something. They aren’t. They’re pretty rare. About a hundred pass through the UK each year and they can turn up anywhere.

The inevitable result of bad publishing meeting childlike enthusiasm is a deep hole in the soul of every casual birder in the UK that can only be filled by seeing a hoopoe.

As you might have already worked out, I went to Morocco this year. Now, in Morocco, a hoopoe is a bird that you might just bump into in the park, and bump into one I did. Three in fact. And while the trip was filled with sightings of much rarer and fancier birds (houbara bustard, stone-curlew, egyptian nightjar, auduin’s gull, northern bald ibis, maghreb lark, greater hoopoe-lark, maghreb wheatear, maghreb wood owl etc etc) it was those hoopoes that were my Birds of the Year, all pink and black and white, a promise that a page in the Collins Gem Guide to British Birds couldn’t hope to keep made real by my being about two thousand miles south of my house.

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